Sunday evening saw the final matches in the Afcon 2017 quarterfinals. In the opening match of the night a strong Democratic Republic of Congo team battled against the 2015 Afcon runners-up Ghana. A small but expectant crowd were in for an exciting encounter.
Florent Ibenge’s men began the game brightly and they didn’t have to wait long to cause the Ghanaian defence trouble. The DR Congo’s Dieumerci Mbokani was gifted an opportunity in the 6th minute as he almost capitalised on a poor back pass. But the Hull City target man was denied by the post as he rounded the keeper and had an empty net to shoot into. The miss didn’t phase the Congolese who continued to dominate the first half and the Black Stars could not get a sniff at goal. The Leopards, however, were not able to break the deadlock as the teams went into the break scoreless.
With the resumption of the second half Avram Grants’ men looked to get onto the front foot and if it wasn’t for the Congolese keeper Ley Matampi the West Africans would have found themselves ahead early in the half. With Ghana moving more onto the front foot in search of a goal, the match turned into an entertaining end-to-end encounter as both teams went for glory. It was Ghana, however, who broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute. Aston Villa attacker Jordan Ayew rode a challenge from a Congolese defender before curling his effort into the top corner of the net. Within 5 minutes the scores were level again when the Stade d’Oyem erupted to acknowledge Paul-Jose Mpoku’s equaliser. The Panathinaikos winger scored an absolute scorcher from outside the box that whistled past a despairing Razak Brimah in the Ghanaian goal.
Ghana regained their advantage in the 77th minute through an Andre Ayew penalty. Christian Atsu, who has arguably been Ghana’s player of the tournament, was adjudged to be brought down in the box. DR Congo pushed hard for the goal that would take this quarterfinal into extra time and their pressure almost paid off. Brimah in the Ghana goal made a world class save to deny Villarreal forward Cedric Bakambu. Right at the end Atsu showed his skill and almost put the game to bed for the Ghanaians but Matampi denied the Newcastle United playmaker. As the final whistle went, Ghana celebrated as they set up a semi-final clash against Cameroon.
The second quarterfinal of the night saw a much anticipated North African derby. Morocco took on Egypt in what promised to be a feisty encounter. The first half was a tightly contested affair as both teams looked to find an opening. Egypt’s Abdallah El Said had the best chance of the half but the Al Ahly midfielder’s half-volley was well saved by Munir in the Moroccan goal. As the half progressed the game became a lacklustre affair with chances few and far between.
As both teams returned from the break there was an air of expectation at the Stade Port-Gentil and the crowd was rewarded with both teams now looking to attack. Mohamed Salah came close to the opening goal for Egypt but the Roma winger found his effort saved by the Moroccan keeper. Minutes later Morocco would have a shot on goal. This time Mbark Boussoufa’s superb curling effort cannoned off the woodwork to the relief of Essam El Hadary in the Egyptian goal. The Moroccans began to turn the screws but couldn’t show anything for their efforts. With under 15 minutes left in normal time Salah found himself in acres of space as a result of some set piece ingenuity. However, the Egyptian would be denied yet again by another stunning save by the Spanish-based keeper Munir, this time from point blank range. The decisive goal eventually came in the 87th minute as the Pharaohs broke Moroccan hearts. Substitute Mahmoud Kahraba capitalised on poor defending and bundled his effort home. The goal did not only signal Egypt’s progression in the tournament but was Egypt’s first victory in 31 years over the Lions of the Atlas. Egypt will now face the Burkinabe in the semi-finals.